Silverstone to match $70m Brands' grand prix deal

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The Independent Online
SILVERSTONE HAS pledged to match the $70m deal that Brands Hatch has struck with Bernie Ecclestone to stage the British Grand Prix from 2002, provided it receives assurances about television rights and the future management of his Formula One Administration.

Denys Rohan, the chief executive of Silverstone Circuits, which has hosted the race since 1987, said he would sign a deal tomorrow as long as Mr Ecclestone undertook to remain in charge of FOA and the Grand Prix series continued to be shown on free-to-air television.

Under the five-year contract signed with FOA by Nicola Foulston, the chief executive of Brands Hatch, payments start at $11.5m and then rise by 10 per cent each year so that by 2006 Brands Hatch will be paying nearly $17m to stage the race.

Mr Rohan claimed Ms Foulston had bid for the race "blind" because she did not know whether it would still be screened for free. Over two-thirds of the 250,000 spectators who go to Silverstone to watch the Grand Prix are casual race-goers.

Mr Rohan said that if the event was only available on pay-TV it would lose its popularity. "I am a risk taker by nature but there are some risks which are just not acceptable and that is one of them. If this deal were to go wrong it could potentially destroy Silverstone and it could also destroy Brands Hatch."

Ms Foulston, who has been trying to persuade the owners of Silverstone, the British Racing Drivers Club, to agree to a takeover, has asked to meet Mr Rohan next week to discuss commercial relationships between the two circuits. Mr Rohan said he was happy to talk but that a merger was out of the question. "There may be a scenario that suits both parties," he added. Silverstone is developing its own restructuring plan. This involves the creation of an operating company which would take over the commercial activities of Silverstone but leave ownership in the hands of the BRDC. Its 832 members would have shares in the new operating company, which could eventually be floated producing windfalls of pounds 75,000-a-head.

The Grand Prix accounts for about pounds 18m of Silverstone's annual income of pounds 32m and half its operating profit. But Mr Rohan maintained it would remain financially healthy even if it lost the race because activities such as its driver training school were more profitable.

Mr Ecclestone has raised $1.4bn through a bond linked to future F1 television income and says he plans to float the business. But insiders feel the more likely route is a trade sale to a media magnate or one of the motor manufacturers, which are entering the sport directly by acquiring F1 teams.